31 December 2010

19 December 2010

This all makes sense to me.

Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, weighs in on the stimulus and the recent tax cuts, claiming that . . .

. . .  the trick would be to address several key economic inefficiencies. The first is that the defense budget has ballooned, so that we are spending an enormous amount overseas—where it doesn’t do anything for our economy—and on weapons with little use. The second is that we give subsidies to a wide range of businesses, which makes the market less efficient and is often in violation of our treaty obligations. The third is that we invest too little in the public goods like the infrastructure necessary for our economy to function. And the last inefficiency is that an increasingly large share—more than 20%—of our national income goes to the top 1% of earners, which means less money goes to the middle class—the real engine of economic growth.

So, Stiglitz says, the trick to reducing the deficit in a way that benefits the economy is simple:

• cut wasteful military spending, in part by no longer funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
• eliminate corporate subsidies, particularly to the banking, agricultural, and pharmaceutical sectors
• spend money on high-return public investments, increasing long-term economic growth
• increase the capital gains tax, which effectively allows the rich to pay a lower tax rate than the middle class
• raise taxes slightly on the rich—who can afford to pay more in taxes—effectively transferring more money back to the middle class

Our sicko media

Michael Moore has an intertaining article about how the government put out false information trying to discredit him and the media from across the spectrum all printed it without so much as a Google search to check if it was true.

12 December 2010

Plus c'est la même chose

Bernie Sanders' clarion call

If anyone needed proof that the U.S. has become a one-party plutocracy, the need look no further than the image of a lone Bernie Sanders in the middle of an empty Senate floor, opposing the bipartisan effort to provide tax-cuts to billionaires.

8 December 2010

Reflections on bitter red pills

The sudden cooperation we see among separate corporate entities, governments, and elite players from around the globe in response to Wikileaks should serve as an important lesson on the true structure of power. While it is always difficult to arrive at an accurate analysis of power--an analysis that sheds light on who is truly calling the shots--there are occasional events that provide a glimpse into the machine's interworkings. We can, at the very least, know that when minor rebellions call forth all the forces of empire, some button must have been pushed; some invisible line in the sand, crossed. The visceral response to some leaked documents and film clips that tell us (surprise, surprise) that troops sometimes kill civilians or that the Russian government is corrupt is, to say the least, a bit baffling. Why all the hooplah?

What's at stake isn't facts--the facts are known already. My guess is that the true threat is the destruction of a narrative: the sort of coherent Fox News narrative (or for that matter, liberal, pro-Obama narrative) that sees government actors and diplomats as motivated by the same themes put forth in our high school civics class. Why anybody still believes such bedtime stories speaks volumes about the effectiveness of our disinformation and diseducational system, but then again, people all over the planet still speak of states as if they were football teams working together to win one for the cheering home crowd. The rightwing practitioners of realpolitik must have quite a few laughs over their $100 shots of single-malt scotch when they turn on the news and see the pseudo-debates about freedom, justice, and protection of the "city on the hill."

The officially sanctioned media has little light to shine on the recent events. Little wonder. If the Wikileaks have done anything, it's to show that the traditional media operations are suffering from a gumption deficit. People who take great pride in living in "democracies" rarely fully confront the implications. If the government's power is solely to work for the people, there should ideally be virtually no secrets. And there should certainly be no instances in which the publically stated policy is, in fact, the reverse of the actual policy.

As Jordan Stancil points out:

The classification rules were supposed to induce openness by requiring cable authors to choose from a list of justifications in the controlling executive order before classifying a document, but in reality, as I saw during my own Foreign Service postings, everybody chooses reasons 1.4(b) and (d)—foreign government information, and foreign activities of the United States. In fact, nearly all officers simply had those justifications pre-pasted into a cable-writing template on their computers. As everyone can now see, almost all the WikiLeaks cables released so far were classified based on reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

There is not a national security reason to keep secret, as a general rule and for an extended period, the interactions between representatives of the US government and representatives of foreign governments. We claim a national security imperative by arguing that foreign politicians would not talk to us if we did not hide what they said from their own constituents and domestic opponents and the governments of third countries. To state this argument is to expose its anti-democratic essence. But this is what Hillary Clinton means when she praises secrecy for permitting what she calls “honest, private dialogue.” She means dialogue among the powerful, safe in the knowledge that they will not be held accountable to their own citizens or legislatures. One readily understands the desire of foreign—or American—public figures to control, as much as they possibly can, the flow of information concerning their activities and their images. It is much less clear that it is in the American national interest to enable this type of information control, and to prosecute people who try to get around it.

Galah extraordinaire

I recently read someone describe Obama has haven't successfully exceeded all non-expectations. Who would have ever dreamed that we'd see the extension of the Bush tax-cuts for the super-wealthy years after Obama took office? What a farce!

Katrin Axelsson on the Assange rape charges

Katrin Axelsson talks about the dangers of using rape charges for political ends:

Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations (Report, 8 December). Women in Sweden don't fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape. Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On 23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that "up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported". They endorsed Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.

Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.

There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don't take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.

7 December 2010

Documentary

Journeyman videos has a good documentary on Wikileaks.

4 December 2010

Have the Taliban conquered Sweden?

Evidently, the motivation for this international manhunt is that the condom broke when someone was having consentual sex.

From the Herald Sun's online paper:

APPARENTLY having consensual sex in Sweden without a condom is punishable by a term of imprisonment of a minimum of two years for rape. That was the basis for a recent revival of rape allegations against Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange that is destined to make Sweden and its justice system the laughing stock of the world and dramatically damage its reputation as a model of modernity.

Sweden’s Public Prosecutor’s Office was embarrassed in August this year when they leaked to the media that they were seeking to arrest Assange for rape then on the same day withdrew the arrest warrant because in their own words there was “no evidence.”  The damage to Assange’s reputation is incalculable. Three months on and three prosecutors later the Swedes seemed to be clear on their basis to proceed with a headline grabbing international arrest warrant. If consensual sex that started out with the intention of condom use and actual condom use ended up without condom, that’s rape.

Statements by the two female “victims” Sophia Wilen and Anna Ardin that there was no fear or violence would stop a rape charge in any western country dead in its tracks.  Rape is a crime of violence. Both women boasted of their of their respective celebrity conquests on internet posts and mobile phones texts after the intimacy they would now see him destroyed for. Ardin hosted a party in Assange’s honour at her flat after the ‘crime’ and tweeted to her followers that she was with the “the world's coolest smartest people, it's amazing!” Ardin has sought unsuccessfully to delete these and thereby destroy evidence of Assange’s innocence She has published on the internet a guide on how to get revenge on cheating boyfriends. Their sms texts to each other show a plan to contact the Swedish newspaper Expressen before hand in order to maximise the damage to Assange.  They belong to the same political group and attended a public lecture given by Assange and organised by them.

The exact content of Sophia Wilén’s mobile phone texts is not yet known but their bragging and generally positive content about Assange has been confirmed by Swedish prosecutors. The consent of both women to sex with Assange has been confirmed by prosecutors. Niether Wilén’s nor Ardin’s texts complain of rape. These facts should make any normal prosecutor gravely concerned about whether a false complaint is being made. But then neither Arden nor Wilén complained to the police. They collaboratively ‘sought advice’, a technique in Sweden enabling citizens to avoid being sued for making false complaints. In any normal first world country the prosecutor would know that her case not just a deeply flawed waste of time by a dangerous perversion of the serious objectives of rape laws. The womens’ lawyer Claes Borgström was questioned by the media as to how the women themselves could be contradicting the legal characterisation of Swedish prosecutors; a crime of non-consent by consent. Borgström’s answer is emblematic of how divorced from reality this matter is: “they (the women) are not jurists.”  You need a law degree to know whether you have been raped or not in Sweden.

How the Swedish authorities propose to prosecute for victims who neither saw themselves as such nor acted as such is easily answered: You’re not a Swedish lawyer so you wouldn’t understand anyway. Make no mistake: It is not Julian Assange that is on trial here but Sweden and its reputation as a modern and model country with rules of law.

Boycott PayPal and Amazon

Amazon recently went over to the dark side. And now this:

U.S.-based PayPal said in a statement that WikiLeaks, which this week released thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, had violated its policy. A posting on WikiLeaks' Twitter page tells us: "PayPal bans WikiLeaks after US government pressure."

The PayPal site claims, "PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We've notified the account holder of this action."

There are apparently many PayPal alternatives (avoid Amazon payments). I've cancelled my PayPal accounts and my Amazon account and have told Amazon that they will never have my business again.

3 December 2010

Schneier's call to close the Washington Monument

Schneier becries our irrational fear while trying to put terrorist acts in perspective in his recent article in the NY Daily News. Three excerpts from this excellent piece:

Some of them call terrorism an "existential threat" against our nation. It's not. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't make an existential dent in our nation. Automobile-related fatalities -- at 42,000 per year, more deaths each month, on average, than 9/11 -- aren't, either. It's our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends.
...

Terrorism isn't a crime against people or property. It's a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed -- even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we're indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail -- even if their attacks succeed.
....

The grand reopening of the Washington Monument will not occur when we've won the war on terror, because that will never happen. It won't even occur when we've defeated al Qaeda. . . . We can reopen the Washington Monument when we've defeated our fears, when we've come to accept that placing safety above all other virtues cedes too much power to government and that liberty is worth the risks, and that the price of freedom is accepting the possibility of crime.

25 November 2010

Palin's new sunshine (or should it be "moonshine") policy

You've got give Sarah credit for holding some unique foreign policy views. Regarding the recent clash between North and South Korea, she stated:

"Obviously, we gotta stand with our North Korean allies."

She should know. She can probably see North Korea from her doorstep up there in Alaska.

24 November 2010

The PhD: Less big bang for the buck



With a few minor changes, the same could probably be said for a lot of majors.

11 November 2010

Our ever-thinning slice of the banana pie

Kristof has a good piece on our ever-accelerating drive to go beyond even traditional banana republics in our creation of a gigantic wealth gap.

9 November 2010

Kermit Jagger

A frog saunters into a bank and approaches the teller. He can see from her nameplate that her name is Patricia Whack. The frog croaks, "Miss Whack, I'd like to take out a $30,000 loan so that I can go on a holiday." Patty looks at the frog in disbelief and asks his name. The frog says his name is Kermit Jagger, the amphibious son of singer Mick Jagger, and he goes on to say that he knows the bank manager. Miss Whack explains that he will need to secure the loan with some collateral. The frog says, "Sure. I have this," and produces a tiny porcelain elephant, about an inch tall, bright pink and perfectly formed. Very confused, Patty explains that she'll have to consult with the bank manager, and disappears into a back office. She finds the manager and says, "There's a frog named Kermit Jagger out there who claims to know you and wants to borrow $30,000. He wants to use this as collateral."  She holds up the tiny pink elephant. "And what in the world is this?" The bank manager looks back at her and says...

"It's a knickknack, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan. His old man's a Rolling Stone."

28 October 2010

The Human Footprint

I watched The Human Footprint yesterday. It's an interesting meditation on our current industrial project. The film shows the amount of food and waste that is produced by a single person during their lifetime. Looking at the tons of stuff that it takes to keep the average American going, it's hard to imagine that we're going to recreate that lifestyle for the rest of the world.

18 October 2010

The imminent end of an era

A recent New Zealand governmental report on peak oil sounds very bleak.

1 October 2010

I left my heart in Gliese 581g

Okay, so maybe it won't make into a pop song anytime soon, but it's exciting to see that we might be locating habitable planets in my lifetime. I'm surprised to hear scientists saying that they know for certain that it's habitable. I'm having a hard time imagining what life would be like on a tidally locked planet--would you have two intelligent races-one adapted to cold and the other eternally dancing on sunlit beaches?

Habitable planet found 20 light-years away!
Astronomers have located an Earth-like planet that they believe can support life. The newly discovered exoplanet Gliese 581g, called Planet G, exists in the Gliese 581 system and is thought to be the right size and location for life. Part of a six-member family of planets, this exoplanet is situated in the middle of the system's so-called "Goldilocks zone."  Scientists believe the temperatures at this position would be ideal for sustaining liquid water on at least part of the planet's surface. While similar to Earth, Planet G has very distinct differences. This world is tidally locked to its red dwarf sun and thus lacks days and nights. In other words, half of the planet is perpetually drenched in sunlight while the other side is draped in darkness. "Any emerging life forms would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around, depending on their longitude," said Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. Although it has not yet been determined whether water exists on the planet, one prominent scientists says that he's 100% confident that Planet G can support life. "Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it," Vogt said.

28 September 2010

CO2's effects on warming and our oceans

Dunbar has an excellent talk on global warming and ocean acidification--something that any remaining warming skeptics should watch.

27 September 2010

Etzioni on yardstick for success in Afghanistan

An excerpt from the article:

To measure progress on this front one, would have to know, for instance, that, if following the last election, the public does feel that the Karzai government is more representative and less fraudulent? Hardly. Does the public feel that the Karzai government and its local representatives, including the police and army, are less corrupt? No indication to this effect. Do they feel minimally secure in their homes and public spaces? Evidence shows to the contrary; the Taliban has been spreading in the northern, non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and holding on to most of the Southern ones. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office, Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at any time since 2001. Four years ago, insurgents were active in only four Afghan provinces. Now, they are active in 33 of 34. Last August, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they carried out 1,353. The International Security Assistance Force recorded 4,919 “kinetic events” (small-arms fire, bombs and shelling, etc.) in August, a 49% increase over August 2009. Thus a proper set of measurements would show a retrogression rather than progress.

23 September 2010

Heading for the waterfall? Answer: Row faster

I just skimmed through the Republicans' Pledge to America and must confess that I nodded off more than a few times. It basically calls for reducing government by cutting social programs, helping business, beefing up the trappings of the security state, and spending on defense--essentially a continuation of policies that we've been following for decades (including under Obama). So if you believe the U.S. has been going in the right direction for the last couple decades, the pledge provides comforting assurance that we'll stay in the center of the river as we head for the waterfall.

13 September 2010

Peak coal

Could we really be at peak coal next year? It sounds audacious. But if true, it would mean a double whammy as the world comes to terms with peak oil.

6 September 2010

Shout, shout, let it all out

Now here's a disturbing thought: people will tend to believe more in an assertion simply because they here it repeated. This was originally discussed in a paper by Hasher, Goldstein, and Toppino (1977). A more recent discussion can be found in this 1997 paper. This helps explain why repeated canards (like the "Obama's a muslim" meme) eventually results in vast swaths of the population reporting the same opinion in national polls. As Napoleon is said to have said (and I've heard this repeated many a time), the only rhetorical device needed for serious topics is repetition.

1 September 2010

Paul Roberts on the state of the economy

Paul Roberts has a good discussion of the U.S. economy over at Counterpunch. I especially like the following two excerpts:

If one overlooks the real world and the need of life for sustenance, one can become engrossed in this debate. However, the minute one looks out the window upon the world, one realizes that cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies when 15 million Americans have lost jobs, medical coverage, and homes is a certain path to death by starvation, curable diseases, and exposure, and the loss of the productive labor inputs from 15 million people. Although some proponents of this anti-Keynesian policy deny that it results in social upheaval, Gerald Celente’s observation is closer to the mark: “When people have nothing left to lose, they lose it.”


And that most taboo of all topics, the sacred military budget:
“Fiscal consolidation,” the new term for austerity, could save the dollar. However, unless starvation, homelessness and social upheaval are the goals, the austerity must fall on the military budget. America cannot afford its multi-trillion dollar wars that serve only to enrich those invested in the armaments industries. The U.S. cannot afford the neoconservative dream of world hegemony and a conquered Middle East open to Israeli colonization. Is anyone surprised that not a single proponent of the “let them eat cake school” mentions cutting military spending? Entitlements, despite the fact that they are paid for by earmarked taxes and have been in surplus since the Reagan administration, are always what economists put on the chopping bloc.

31 August 2010

Fantasies of upper mobility

This is one of the best articles on the economy that I've seen recently:

The Fantasy of the Vast Upper Middle Class

Among the many theories exposed as fallacies by the Great Recession is the idea of the mass upper middle class. During the years of the American bubble economy, progressives and conservatives alike lauded the graduation of most citizens from the working class to a new elite that included the majority of Americans.

The center-left and center-right defined this alleged new class somewhat differently. In 19th century Germany, scholars distinguished the credentialed middle class (Bildungsbuergertum) from the propertied middle class (Besitzbuergertum). A similar divide separates America’s progressive elite, based in the educational profession, civil service and nonprofit sector, from America’s conservative elite, based in business and banking. Elite progressives and elite conservatives share the assumption that the ideal society is one in which most Americans would be more like them, in owning educational credentials (progressives) or capital (conservatives).

The elderly in America can remember a long-distant era when progressive thinkers included leaders of organized labor and small-town populist politicians. But nowadays progressive politicians and strategists tend to be affluent meritocrats who got where they are by making good grades at highly selective schools. Their narrow personal experience leads many elite progressives to equate social mobility and increases in income with obtaining academic credentials like their own. While New Deal labor liberals and populists wanted to promote unions and a living wage, many members of the new breed of Ivy League-educated liberal technocrats prefer an alternate plan: send everybody to college.

Progressives love to claim that education is the key to upward mobility. But this is based on an obvious fallacy. The "college premium" that results in higher incomes for college graduates is the result of the relative scarcity of college degrees. If everyone had a B.A., then the value of a B.A. in generating high wages would drop. We know this to be the case, because access to college has expanded more rapidly in Europe, where the gap in wages between the college-educated and the rest as a result is smaller than in the U.S.

Nor is there any basis to the claim, repeated by politicians and pundits of both parties, that most of the jobs of the future require a college education. On the eve of the Great Recession, the Bureau of Labor Statistics identified the occupations with the largest numerical growth in 2008-2018: registered nurses; home health aides; customer service representatives; combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food; personal and home care aides; retail salespersons; office clerks, general; accountants and auditors; nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants; and post-secondary teachers. Of these careers, only two -- accountants and auditors, and post-secondary teachers -- require a bachelor’s degree rather than on-the-job training or an associate degree, and only one -- post-secondary teachers -- requires a graduate degree (a doctorate).

Some have claimed that the millennium of the credentialed class has already arrived. In a 2008 paper titled "The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class," the leading political analyst Ruy Teixeira and the scholar Alan Abramowitz argue that the key factor in contemporary American politics is the expansion of the highly educated, white-collar professional sector. But they reach this conclusion only by truly heroic feats of definition. They are able to claim that 54 percent of the American people are college-educated only by combining the 29 percent who had B.A.’s in 2007 with the 25 percent who had "some college." Taking a different approach and combining the "some college" crowd with high school graduates produces a more recognizable picture of an America with a majority of workers who have less than a four-year college degree.

The definition of "white-collar jobs" used by Teixeira and Abramowitz is even more generous, including "clerical" and "sales" along with professional. Do receptionists and shoe-store sales clerks in the mall really think of themselves as being in the same social class as doctors, lawyers and corporate executives?

Conservatives of the bubble economy era had their own mass upper-middle-class fantasy. In their version, membership in the mass upper middle class depended not upon educational credentials but upon ownership of capital invested in the stock market. By the beginning of the 21st century, according to some calculations, a majority of Americans had private retirement accounts or employer pensions that were invested in stocks and bonds. In the pages of the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, conservative intellectuals declared that this made the United States a "nation of capitalists," an "investor society" based on "universal capitalism."

Defining janitors with 401K’s as "capitalists" is a kind of social promotion comparable to the elevation by progressives like Teixeira and Abramowitz of shoe-store clerks who dropped out of college into the "mass upper middle class." Genuine capitalists derive most of their income from the return on their investments or savings, not from labor. By this definition, there are hardly any capitalists in the U.S.  Most of the rich are the "working rich," who derive most of their income from wages or professional fees, not from investments. We are a nation of wage earners, some paid well and others poorly.

A majority of Americans may have some money invested in the stock market, usually through employer pension plans or 401Ks, but it is very little indeed. Forty-three percent of Americans have less than $10,000 in retirement savings and 36 percent contribute nothing to retirement savings at all. Thanks to two stock market collapses in less than a decade, most Americans will be more dependent on Social Security in retirement than ever. So much for the "nation of capitalists" and "the investor society."

At least the credentials touted by the center-left and the stocks and bonds touted by the center-right could be described with some plausibility as income-generating assets. During the bubble years, houses also began to be seen as income-producing assets, as well as symbols of membership in the suburban upper middle class.

For a generation, most Americans have been told by left, right and center that they would be failures if they ended their educations with high school, worked hard, saved cash for emergencies and bought modest homes they could afford. They have been told that to succeed in life they need to ape the lifestyles of the upper middle class that provides most of America’s politicians, pundits and scholars.
The result has been an experiment in social engineering that has gone horribly wrong: the creation of a faux mass upper middle class. Millions of Americans who by objective standards belong to the working class or lower middle class have persuaded themselves that they are part of the professional-investor elite, because they have worthless degrees from diploma mills, negligible amounts invested in stocks, and suburban trophy houses they cannot afford. For the college graduates at Starbucks working to pay off student loans for degrees that they will never use, as for the millions of Americans who are now "underwater," owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, the American dream has turned into a nightmare.

But many have profited from the peddling of the dream of the mass upper middle class. The claim that everyone should go to college served the interests of the educational-industrial complex, from K-12 to the universities, that now serves as an important constituency of the Democratic Party. (Along with Wall Street investment banks, universities provided Barack Obama with his largest campaign donations.) And the claim that everyone needs to pour money into the stock market, to be managed by banks and brokers who fleece their clients, served the interests of the financial-industrial complex that has replaced real-economy businesses as the dominant force in the Republican Party. Both the educators and the brokers have successfully lobbied Congress to subsidize their bloated industries, swelling them even further, by means of tax breaks for student loans and personal retirement savings. The big losers have been the millions of working Americans whom many Democrats and Republicans alike have persuaded, against their interests, to indulge champagne tastes on beer budgets.

The alternative to the mass upper-middle-class fantasy peddled by Republicans and New Democrats is a return to the older New Deal liberal approach, based on high wages and adequate social insurance. Working Americans should not need to go into debt to obtain college diplomas, in order to share more of the gains of national economic growth in the form of higher wages. And there would be less pressure on working Americans to gamble with their money in the stock market, if Social Security, like public pensions in the rest of the world, replaced a higher percentage of pre-retirement income than the 30-40 percent it replaces today.

An America with a college-educated professional class majority was always a fantasy. So was an America with a majority of affluent day traders. The America we need is one in which all Americans are paid a living wage and guaranteed a comfortable retirement -- even if they didn’t go to a university and don’t own stocks and bonds.

Michael Lind is the policy director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation.

28 August 2010

Agora and Mao's Last Dancer

Yesterday, I went on a sort of movie marathon and watched both Agora and Mao's Last Dancer. Agora is based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, an atheist philosophy professor who struggled against religious ignorance as Christianity took power in Egypt (then part of the dying Roman Empire). In addition to some very impressive visuals of the great library of Alexandria, the movie offers an interesting look at issues of religion and science. Mao's Last Dancer is based on a biography about Liu Cunxin, who came to the U.S. as a ballet dancer and then defected to the U.S. The movie flips back and forth between Liu's early peasant life, his training in Beijing, and his time in the Houston ballet. I saw both of these in an art house theatre. I don't know why they aren't shown everywhere. The main holywood fare is sappy and unimaginative. Some elegant period pieces might spice things up a bit.

25 August 2010

Do not pass go

Zach Carter has some very apropos comments on a recent NPR segment:

Roberts is arguing that the basic goals of real, living human beings are essentially the same as those of a Monopoly player. A Monopoly player wins by pushing everyone else into total poverty in order to control all resources and establish complete economic domination over his peers. People in the real world who are fueled by such motivations are not ordinary, model citizens—they are completely insane. Life is not a quest to get our hands on as much stuff as we can so our neighbors don't get to it first. A society that allows a few people to establish supreme economic dominion over all others is not a society at all—it's just a bunch of nasty brutes trying to destroy each other.

Unfortunately, domination and exploitation are driving forces that motivate the top people in our economy. (Why else would any sane person give a damn about amassing so much wealth?) But for most of us, it certainly doesn't all have the feel of a "game."

24 August 2010

About advising and assisting

It's a sign of our Orwellian times that the U.S. be described as having pulled out of Iraq while 50,000 troops remain. My guess is that the plan is to keep a 50,000-strong occupation force there indefinitely (or more accurately, until the oil dries up).

The Army Times reported on Saturday that the US still has seven combat brigades inside Iraq, but they have been renamed "advise and assist brigades." The name change will reportedly change little in terms of the duties the brigades carry out: The Army selected the brigade combat teams as the unit upon which to build advisory brigades partly because they would be able to retain their inherent capability to conduct offensive and defensive operations, according to the Army’s security force assistance field manual, which came out in May 2009. This way, the brigade can shift the bulk of its operational focus from security force assistance to combat operations if necessary. Of the roughly 50,000 American military personnel who remain in Iraq, the majority are still combat troops -- they're just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called "brigade combat teams" and instead will be called "advisory and assistance brigades." But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.

23 August 2010

Ron Paul on the mosque controversy

Congressman Ron Paul today released the following statement on the controversy concerning the construction of an Islamic Center and Mosque in New York City:

Is the controversy over building a mosque near ground zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery? It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque. Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

Just think of what might (not) have happened if the whole issue had been ignored and the national debate stuck with war, peace, and prosperity. There certainly would have been a lot less emotionalism on both sides. The fact that so much attention has been given the mosque debate, raises the question of just why and driven by whom? In my opinion it has come from the neo-conservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.

They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill conceived preventative wars. A select quote from soldiers from in Afghanistan and Iraq expressing concern over the mosque is pure propaganda and an affront to their bravery and sacrifice. The claim is that we are in the Middle East to protect our liberties is misleading. To continue this charade, millions of Muslims are indicted and we are obligated to rescue them from their religious and political leaders. And, we’re supposed to believe that abusing our liberties here at home and pursuing unconstitutional wars overseas will solve our problems.

The nineteen suicide bombers didn’t come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Fifteen came from our ally Saudi Arabia, a country that harbors strong American resentment, yet we invade and occupy Iraq where no al Qaeda existed prior to 9/11. Many fellow conservatives say they understand the property rights and 1st Amendment issues and don’t want a legal ban on building the mosque. They just want everybody to be “sensitive” and force, through public pressure, cancellation of the mosque construction.

This sentiment seems to confirm that Islam itself is to be made the issue, and radical religious Islamic views were the only reasons for 9/11. If it became known that 9/11 resulted in part from a desire to retaliate against what many Muslims saw as American aggression and occupation, the need to demonize Islam would be difficult if not impossible. There is no doubt that a small portion of radical, angry Islamists do want to kill us but the question remains, what exactly motivates this hatred?

If Islam is further discredited by making the building of the mosque the issue, then the false justification for our wars in the Middle East will continue to be acceptable. The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses. Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. But many conservatives and liberals do not want to diminish the hatred for Islam–the driving emotion that keeps us in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.

The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservative’s aggressive wars.

The House Speaker is now treading on a slippery slope by demanding a Congressional investigation to find out just who is funding the mosque—a bold rejection of property rights, 1st Amendment rights, and the Rule of Law—in order to look tough against Islam.

This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.

We now have an epidemic of “sunshine patriots” on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended.

Political demagoguery rules when truth and liberty are ignored.

21 August 2010

Pro deo et patria

Recently, 80 soldiers were punished for not attending a Christian concert. This is pretty typical. A more subtle form of this proselytizing occurs when Christian chaplains take part in military events and everyone is forced to remain in formation for the reading of some long prayer. It makes me wonder if there's anywhere in the services where these prayers are Buddhist or Islamic (In the latter case, the whole congregation could then be told to turn to Mecca while the prayer was uttered). Or for that matter, why aren't there athiest or humanist sorts of ministers? There's an organization devoted to religious freedom in the military (http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/) and a documentary called Chaplains Under Fire that apparently provides a fairly even-handed treatment featuring people on both sides of the issue.

18 August 2010

Sharing the Pain

Now here's a good idea from across the pond:

How can the sixth richest nation in the world be contemplating cuts in school meals services and regressive forms of taxation? In the political and media commentaries on the national crisis and the need for cuts, there has been very little discussion on how much wealth there is and why "we" as a nation are apparently so poor. Actually the economy keeps growing, and we are becoming richer than we were before the financial crisis.

The total personal wealth in the UK is £9,000bn, a sum that dwarfs the national debt. It is mostly concentrated at the top, so the richest 10% own £4,000bn, with an average per household of £4m. The bottom half of our society own just 9%. The wealthiest hold the bulk of their money in property or pensions, and some in financial assets and objects such antiques and paintings.

A one-off tax of just 20% on the wealth of this group would pay the national debt and dramatically reduce the deficit, since interest payments on the debt are a large part of government spending. So that is what should be done. This tax of 20%, graduated so the very richest paid the most, would raise £800bn. A major positive for this scheme is that the tax would not have to be immediately paid. The richest 10% have only to assume liability for their small part of the debt. They can pay a low rate of interest on it and if they wish make it a charge on their property when they die. It would be akin to a student loan for the rich.  ...[full article]...

13 August 2010

Econopocalypse: Reaganite Blames Republicans

David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under Reagan, now blames the economic downturn on Republican policies during the last four decades.

From a MarketWatch article:

Stockman sees a class-rebellion, a new revolution, a war against greed and the wealthy. Soon. The trigger will be the growing gap between economic classes: No wonder "that during the last bubble (from 2002 to 2006) the top 1% of Americans -- paid mainly from the Wall Street casino -- received two-thirds of the gain in national income, while the bottom 90% -- mainly dependent on Main Street's shrinking economy -- got only 12%. This growing wealth gap is not the market's fault. It's the decaying fruit of bad economic policy." . . .

His bottom line: "The day of national reckoning has arrived. We will not have a conventional business recovery now, but rather a long hangover of debt liquidation and downsizing ... it's a pity that the modern Republican party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach -- balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline -- is needed more than ever."

8 August 2010

7 August 2010

Collapse (documentary)

I watched Ruppert's documentary Collapse (consisting almost entirely of him sitting in a dark room talking). Those who have seen The End of Suburbia or other pieces on peak oil probably don't want to see the film as it doesn't offer much new except for some discussion of Ruppert's life. Michael Ruppert was a police officer who became an independent reporter who was initially interested in CIA-sponsored drug running but later turned to the topic of peak oil. I'd agree with much that's said in the film, but there are a few parts that leave me cold. At one point, he races through alternate fuels and rapidly dismisses all of them, citing, among other reasons, the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. This is clearly hogwash--there's so much wasted energy around us that an ability to use even the smallest fraction of it (even with considerable waste) would give us more energy than we could find uses for. That said, Ruppert's point that we'd need to be moving in the right direction very rapidly so that we'd have access to our current infrastructure (built and sustained on oil) while making the expensive transition is, I'm sure, right on. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I think The End of Suburbia, although a bit older, is much more watchable and convincing, as it features a lot more speakers (many of whom have greater expertise). That said, we have to be thankful for our Michael Rupperts. They're an important breed of self-educated, independent-minded muckrakers, who are able to see beyond the blanket of lies cast by the media and critically analyze the situation for themselves.

3 August 2010

Love, hate, and . . .

24 July 2010

The disappearing middle class

Twenty-two statistics showing how the middle class is being systematically wiped out in the U.S.:
  1. 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
  2. 61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
  3. 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
  4. 36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.
  5. A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
  6. 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
  7. Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
  8. Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
  9. For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
  10. In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
  11. As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
  12. The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
  13. Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
  14. In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
  15. The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
  16. In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
  17. More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
  18. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
  19. This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
  20. Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 - the highest rate in 20 years.
  21. Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
  22. The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.

21 July 2010

A real yaba daba doo time

Creationism is so much fun. I'll miss these people when they eventually go extinct or evolve into more intelligent life forms.

19 July 2010

Yarkoni's 2010 article

The lexicographers are going to throw down their tea leaves and tell all about our personalities:

Personality in 100,000 Words: A large-scale analysis of personality and word use among bloggers by Tal Yarkoni (Journal of Research in Personality, 2010)

Abstract: Previous studies have found systematic associations between personality and individual differences in word use. Such studies have typically focused on broad associations between major personality domains and aggregate word categories, potentially masking more specific associations. Here I report the results of a large-scale analysis of personality and word use in a large sample of blogs (N = 694). The size of the dataset enabled pervasive correlations with personality to be identified for a broad range of lexical variables, including both aggregate word categories and individual English words. The results replicated category-level findings from previous off-line studies, identified numerous novel associations at both a categorical and single-word level, and underscored the value of complementary approaches to the study of personality and word use.

WaPo article on the fourth branch

Nearly a million Americans have clearances?! I think it's time people in the U.S. rethink their priorities.

17 July 2010

David Harvey's take on the econopocalypse

Darwin, the great seer, predicts all

This is fun. In a spoof on all the biblical numerology hocus-pocus in bookshops, Stellar Alchemy produces a convincing series of future predictions all taken from Darwin's The Origin of Species. The idea that God would want to speak in codes has always made me ask Christians why God doesn't simply hover above the news reporters on Fox News (definitely not on CNN) and announce his presence each night as lightning bolts come forth from his head. (Or better yet, hover above each person on the planet 24/7--in which case even hard-nosed skeptics like myself might feel a need to revise our current model of reality.) Evidently, God is more of the crossword-puzzle nerdish sort of deity, constantly at pains to hide important messages in backward diagonals of the King James translation.

11 July 2010

So much for voting with one's wallet

Those on the right often tell us we should vote with our dollars rather than protest in the streets. If this is the case, what are we to make of the latest Israeli crackdown on its academic establishment:

A protest petition has been signed by 500 academics, including two former education ministers, following recent comments by Israel's education minister, Gideon Saar, that the government intends to take action against the boycott's supporters. A proposed bill introduced into the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – would outlaw boycotts and penalise their supporters. Individuals who initiated, encouraged or provided support or information for any boycott or divestment action would be made to pay damages to the companies affected. Foreign nationals involved in boycott activity would be banned from entering Israel for 10 years, and any "foreign state entity" engaged in such activity would be liable to pay damages.

Individuals would have to "pay damages to companies" because they simply advocate not doing business with those companies! That's an interesting interpretation of democracy.

Saar last week described the petition as hysterical and an attempt to silence contrary opinions. While the vast majority of the signatories do not support an academic boycott of Israel, they have joined forces over what they regard as the latest assault on freedom of expression in Israel. The petition states: "We have different and varied opinions about solving the difficult problems facing Israel, but there is one thing we are agreed on – freedom of expression and academic freedom are the very lifeblood of the academic system." Daniel Gutwein, a history professor at Haifa University who is one of the signatories, described the minister's intervention as an attempt "to make Israeli academia docile, frightened and silent".

Academia, as a collection of independent and often idealistic thinkers, is always a thorn in the side of any regime. Unlike the elites of the corporate world, most academics aren't compensated well enough to be enticed to sell their soul to the system. When academics can't be bought off or seduced with grants and lucrative contracts as consultants, governments resort to the threat of law suits or brute force.

Thumbs up for Knight and Day

Last night I watched Knight and Day and ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. The film is fairly witty; Cruise manages to play a much more low-key character than is his wont; and Cameron Diaz is stunning as always. Best of all, the movie--much like the old James Bond flicks--doesn't take itself too seriously and it doesn't even resort to constant expletives and gore that Hollywood typically dishes up. All the violence is very much of the Tom and Jerry type. The film won't be remembered, but it's definitely a good way to kill a Saturday evening.

10 July 2010

Germany Will Seek 100% of its Electricity from Rewables by 2050

As we pin our hopes on shale and coal, Germany steps forward with an "audacious" plan:

Germany, which generates 16% of its power from renewable sources such as hydro-electric, wind and solar, now plans to get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. It is an audacious plan, but German economists maintain it will actually improve the German economy and forestall the dislocations of the global warming that will otherwise occur. Wind turbines alone are expected to generate 25 percent of the electricity in the European Union of 27 states by the year 2030. By hooking a network of wind turbines into a common grid, some of the big problems with wind power, especially intermittency or the failure of the wind to blow all the time, can be overcome (with a networked grid, active wind farms can take up the slack for ones where the breeze has temporarily died down).

via Informed Content

9 June 2010

The latest fatwa

For those of us who have endured slappings and indignant nays when we've proposed this to the women with whom we're in contact daily, it's a relief to see support from conservative Saudi clerics:



Saudi Clerics Advocate Adult Breast-Feeding
Dana Kennedy


AOL News (June 5) -- Women in Saudi Arabia should give their breast milk to male colleagues and acquaintances in order to avoid breaking strict Islamic law forbidding mixing between the sexes, two powerful Saudi clerics have said. They are at odds, however, over precisely how the milk should be conveyed.

A fatwa issued recently about adult breast-feeding to establish "maternal relations" and preclude the possibility of sexual contact has resulted in a week's worth of newspaper headlines in Saudi Arabia. Some have found the debate so bizarre that they're calling for stricter regulations about how and when fatwas should be issued.

Sheikh Al Obeikan, an adviser to the royal court and consultant to the Ministry of Justice, set off a firestorm of controversy recently when he said on TV that women who come into regular contact with men who aren't related to them ought to give them their breast milk so they will be considered relatives.

"The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman," Al Obeikan said, according to Gulf News. "He should drink it and then becomes a relative of the family, a fact that allows him to come in contact with the women without breaking Islam's rules about mixing."

Obeikan said the fatwa applied to men who live in the same house or come into contact with women on a regular basis, except for drivers.

Al Obeikan, who made the statement after being asked on TV about a 2007 fatwa issued by an Egyptian scholar about adult breast-feeding, said that the breast milk ought to be pumped out and given to men in a glass.

But his remarks were followed by an announcement by another high-profile sheik, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who said that men should suckle the breast milk directly from a woman's breast.

Shortly after the two sheiks weighed in on the matter, a bus driver in the country's Eastern Region reportedly told one of the female teachers whom he drives regularly that he wanted to suckle milk from her breast. The teacher has threaten to file a lawsuit against him.

The fatwa stems from the tenets of the strict Wahhabi version of Islam that governs modern Saudi Arabia and forbids women from mixing with men who are not relatives. They are also not allowed to vote, drive or even leave the country without the consent of a male "guardian."

Under Islamic law, women are encouraged to breast-feed their children until the age of 2. It is not uncommon for sisters, for example, to breast-feed their nephews so they and their daughters will not have to cover their faces in front of them later in life. The custom is called being a "breast milk sibling."

But under Islamic law, breast milk siblings have to be breastfed before the age of 2 in five "fulfilling" sessions. Islam prohibits sexual relations between a man and any woman who breastfed him in infancy. They are then allowed to be alone together when the man is an adult because he is not considered a potential mate.

"The whole issue just shows how clueless men are," blogger Eman Al Nafjan wrote on her website. "All this back and forth between sheiks and not one bothers to ask a woman if it's logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breast milk meals.

"Moreover, the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman's breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal."

Al Nafjan said many in the country were appalled by the fatwa.

"We have many important issues that need discussing," Al Nafjan told AOL News Friday. "It's ridiculous to spend time talking about adult breast-feeding."

Unlawful mixing between the sexes is taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia. In March 2009, a 75-year-old Syrian widow, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, living in the city of Al-Chamil, was given 40 lashes and sentenced to six months in prison after the religious police learned that two men who were not related to her were in her house, delivering bread to her.

One of the two men found in her house, Fahd, told the police that Sawadi breast-fed him as a baby so he was considered a son and had a right to be there. But in a later court ruling, a judge said it could not be proved that Fahd was her "breast milk son." Fahd was sentenced to four months in prison and 40 lashes, and the man who accompanied him got six months and 60 lashes.

The original adult breast-feeding fatwa was issued three years ago by an Egyptian scholar at Egypt's al-Azhar University, considered Sunni Islam's top university. Ezzat Attiya was expelled from the university after advocating breast-feeding of men as a way to circumnavigate segregation of the sexes in Egypt.

A year ago, Attiya was reinstated to his post.

3 June 2010

Cuban Five

According to a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Government violated the Smith-Mundt Act, by funding activities to influence public opinion with regard to the Cuban Five, thus influencing the jury pool and calling into question their convictions. It has long been known that the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) paid supposedly independent journalists to write stories about Cuba and the Cuban Five in the Miami press during the period when the government arrested and prosecuted the Cuban Five. If the U.S. government was secretly paying supposedly independent journalists to produce stories supportive of the government's prosecution of the Cuban Five, it is highly plausible that they would have affected the jury pool as well as the sitting jury in the case of the Cuban Five. This raises very serious concerns.

I'm familiar with how Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld used various contractors to fabricate stories for the Iraqi press during the early days of the second Iraq War. Likewise, I know about how in the run-up to that war, stories about Iraq's WMD were placed in foreign newspapers and then strangely enough found their way back, via the Internet, to U.S. audiences. This, too, is a violation of the Smith-Mundt Act which constructs a legal firewall between such activities, i.e., the U.S. Government can officially propagandize foreign audiences but not the American public. My familiarity with these instances of government activity leads me to believe that what the BBG is alleged to have done, may indeed be the case.

The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five is currently the plaintiff in the committee v Broadcasting Board of Governors, Civil Action No. 09-01713 before the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The principal claim is that the U.S. public has a right to know about matters involving improper domestic propaganda as well as whether the government compromised the fundamental right to a fair trial of the Cuban Five. A petition for habeas corpus on behalf of one of the Five, Geraldo Hernandez, sentenced to two life sentences plus 15 years inprison is due on 14 June 2010; thus, the need for swift justice if thesecharges are accurate.

The New York Times, among other outlets reported on the story of reporters taking money from the US Government back in 2006, but the Committee is seeking to determine the identities of other journalists who participated in the program through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The BBG, backed by the USG,is trying to kill any further attempts at exposure.

One of the journalists, Enrique Encinosa, is the man who in an interview in Miami Beach in 2005 regarding the murder of an Italian citizen in aseries of hotel bombings in Havana supposedly masterminded by Luis Posada Carriles, had this to say: "I personally think it's an acceptable method. It's a way of damaging the tourist economy. The message that one tries to get across is that Cuba is not a healthy pace for tourists. So, if Cubais not a healthy place for tourists because there's a few windows being blown out of hotels, that's fine."

by Lawrence Wilkerson

31 May 2010

Marriage in heaven

The Car Accident


On their way to get married, a young couple are involved in a fatal car accident. They find themselves sitting outside the Pearly Gates waiting for St Peter to admit them to Heaven.

While waiting, they begin to wonder: Could they possibly get married in Heaven? When St Peter shows up, they ask him.

St Peter says, "I don't know. This is the first time anyone has asked. Let me go and find out."

The couple sit and wait for an answer... for a couple of months. As they wait, they discuss whether IF they were allowed to get married in Heaven, they SHOULD actually go ahead with it, what with the eternal aspect of it all.

"What if it doesn't work?" they wonder. "Are we stuck together FOREVER?"

After yet another month, St Peter finally returns looking somewhat bedraggled.

"Yes," he informs the couple, "you CAN get married in Heaven."

"Great!" say the couple. "But we were just wondering, what if things don't work out? Could we also get a divorce in Heaven?"

St Peter, red-faced with anger, slams his clipboard on the ground.

"What's wrong?" ask the frightened couple.

"Oh, COME ON!!" St Peter shouts. "It took me three months to find a PRIEST up here! Do you have any idea how long it'll take me to find a lawyer?"

19 May 2010

The new Saudi Arabia

Here's an interesting factoid:

Canadian oil sands are expected to become America’s top source of imported oil this year, surpassing conventional Canadian oil imports and roughly equaling the combined imports from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm.


This doesn't mean that oil sands have surpassed conventional oil, but that seems to be the direction we're heading. Which means a new source of oil that is plentiful, expensive, and ecologically problematic. I still don't understand why people can't just buy smaller cars and live closer to work.

16 May 2010

Counterthink

30 April 2010

Gattaca or Road Warrior? Or bit of both!

The world of Gattaca approaches. It's predicted that an entire personal genome will soon be sequenced for around one grand. If it hasn't happened already, I can foresee the day when match-makers through Asia, India, and the Middle East will have this in their portfolios right along with how much a person makes and whether they like pets. Other news on the medical front--the FDA just approved a vaccine to boost the immune system of prostrate cancer patients. My guess is that we'll start to see a whole series of remarkable breakthroughs in medicine, computing, nano-technology, and other areas focused on the microscopic. Changes in the larger world (major green infrastructure development and so on) seem to be lagging and I can't imagine much happening in the U.S. (or even Europe) due to debt and America's seeming inability to think big and get ahead of the curve on upcoming technology and innovations (especially those that aren't poised to bring a rapid windfall of profits to some small clique). The recent approval of a tiny windfarm in Cape Cod (after much brouhaha) is a case in point.

20 April 2010

Only in Texas

After the joy of a wedding and the adoption of a baby came arguments that couldn't be resolved, leading Angelique Naylor to file for divorce. That left her fighting both the woman she married in Massachusetts and the state of Texas, which says a union granted in a state where same-sex marriage is legal can't be dissolved with a divorce in a state where it's not. A judge in Austin granted the divorce, but Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is appealing the decision. He also is appealing a divorce granted to a gay couple in Dallas, saying protecting the "traditional definition of marriage" means doing the same for divorce.

The problem with the conservative mind

From the discussion section from "System Justification, the Denial of GlobalWarming, and the Possibility of “System-Sanctioned Change." The article analyzes conservative denial of environmental problems and shows how conservatism costs society dearly:

The results of our first two studies also suggest that commonly observed differences between demographic and ideological groups with respect to environmental attitudes can be explained in part by system justification tendencies. Specifically, political conservatives scored higher than liberals on measures of system justification (see also Jost, Nosek, et al., 2008), and this partially accounted for their propensity to minimize or deny environmental problems and their reluctance to bear personal responsibility for alleviating the causes of environmental problems. These findings shed light on the oft-noted tendency of political conservatives to express less concern about environmental problems compared to liberals (e.g., Begley, 2007; Carroll, 2007; Dunlap, 2008). However, system justification did not fully account for the effect of political orientation on environmental attitudes. It seems likely that “top-down” institutional factors are also at work, including differences in the official platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties (Begley, 2007; McCright & Dunlap, 2003). The current research also provides one of the first investigations into the nature of the relationship between national identification and system justification, as well as the relationship between national identification and attitudes concerning the natural environment. Not too surprisingly, people who are more highly identified with their country and are more invested in its success are especially motivated to perceive the socioeconomic system of that country as fair and legitimate (cf. Shayo, 2009; Laurin et al., 2009). However, system justification motivation, as we have seen, also carries with it potentially negative consequences, such as resisting efforts to improve the status quo, which ultimately hurts the very system in which one is psychologically invested (see also Jost, Blount, et al., 2003; Wakslak et al., 2007). More optimistically, our third study suggests that by emphasizing the fact that the “American way of life” depends on a healthy natural environment, it is possible to motivate those who are otherwise personally or ideologically inclined to dismiss environmental problems to confront those problems openly and to take constructive action.

I love Glox News

Tom Tomorrow's a genius.

18 April 2010

Barbara O'Brien on the healthcare bill

Health Care Reform: The Morning After


Many politicians and pundits warned us that the health care reform (HCR) legislation that just became law will destroy America. Government bureaucrats will take over health care decisions, we were told. The old and infirm would be hauled away by death panels. Everything about the way we receive our medical care will change, and change drastically, they said.

Medicare recipients have been frightened by stories that their benefits will be cut. Middle-age people are worried they will lose their jobs when the law’s dreaded regulations, or taxes, or maybe regulations with taxes, would destroy their employers’ businesses.

The truth is, very little will change for most people. If you were insured by employee benefits before HCR, you will be insured by exactly the same policy in exactly the same way after HCR. You will have access to the same doctors on the same terms. “Government bureaucrats” will no more be involved in your health care than they were before.

And the same is true of Medicare, which of course is a government program, although many of the people who opposed the HCR bill don’t seem to know that.

Here are the “cataclysmic” changes to health care that are now in effect, or which will go into effect within the next six months for people who are already in group insurance plans:

• The law says you can’t lose your insurance coverage because you get sick. Before, in many states, if you were stricken with a severe illness such as mesothelioma cancer that would be expensive to treat, your insurer could use just about any excuse to cancel your coverage. That is over.

• HCR has ended lifetime limits on coverage. As long as you are receiving medical care, your insurer pays the bills.

• Your children can be covered on your existing policy until they are 26 years old.

• In six months, insurers cannot refuse to insure people under the age of 19 because of “pre-existing conditions.” This provision will go into effect for everyone in 2014.


And if you are on Medicare, you will be asked to struggle with the following:

• You get a free annual checkup.

• The co-pays and deductibles on many preventive care services are eliminated.

• If you are in the Medicare D “doughnut hole,” you will get a $250 rebate check in a few weeks. The hole itself will be closed gradually and will be gone by 2020.

But what about all those terrible regulations and taxes that are about to drive businesses out of business? Um, there really isn’t much to report. Oh, wait, here’s one — a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services that use ultraviolet lamps will go into effect July 1. That’s about it.

However, beginning this year a tax credit will be available for some small businesses to help provide insurance coverage for employees.

Soon the politicians and pundits will start trying to frighten you about the provisions that will go into effect after this year. I assure you they are about as scary as the provisions that go into effect this year, but I will discuss them in a follow-up post.

— Barbara O’Brien

14 April 2010

CoPs

I've been reading Wenger's 1998 book--Communities of Practice. The following two passages at the end of book's treatment of practice struck me as profound:

From p. 141: “What can be called knowledge, therefore, is not just a matter of local regimes of competence; it depends also on the orientation of these practices within broader constellations. Yet, whatever discourses we use to define what knowledge is, our communities of practice are a context of mutual engagement where these discourses can touch our experience and thus be given new life. In this regard, knowing in practice involves an interaction between the local and the global.”

From pp. 141, 142: “Our knowing, even of the most unexceptional kind, is always too big, too rich, too ancient, and too connected for us to the source of it individually. At the same time, our knowing—even of the most elevated kind—is too engaged, too precise, too tailored, too active, and too experiential for it to be just of a generic size. The experience of knowing is no less unique, no less creative, and no less extraordinary for being one of participation. As a matter of fact, on the face of it, it would probably not amount to much otherwise.”

6 April 2010

Wikileaks

I like this Wikileaks idea of bouncing information around services to prevent the silencing of whistle-blowers.

2 April 2010

Wat Rong Khun

This is an amazing construction--a Thai Buddhist temple constructed using white glass.

24 March 2010

No more island

I post this comic in commemoration of fiercely disputed New Moore island which has been inundated with sea water and is thus disputed no more. When I saw the original article posted elsewhere, I couldn't help but smirk at some readers' comments--spiked tea party folk who insisted that the island must be sinking because global warming was an impossibility. But then again, maybe I don't keep up with the news enough. Evidently, the U.S. recently became socialist. I must be the main character of my own Truman Show because I still see the same unemployment, collapsing infrastructure, unemployment lines, and wide rich-poor gap that I saw before our sudden socialist turn. Obamic socialism must only be affecting the rural white counties of South Dakota from which these people harken.

22 March 2010

Health bill passes after all

The healthcare bill has passed. This is probably a good thing, although the bill disappoints in so many ways. It fails to reign in cost increases, which will ultimately swamp the system. It also fails to do away with insurance companies, which any decent bill would have made obsolete. On the other hand, our system has just about been destroyed at this point by elite interests and the desire for ever-greater profits at a time when most of our incomes are standing still or declining, so any change is good change.

9 March 2010

Rumsfeld's tortured logic finally called into question

This is great news. Besides the introduction of the novel and radical notion that political leaders have to follow laws, the case is of interest since it involves the torture of would-be whistle-blowers. This shows why we can't allow the government to use torture--they'll misuse it.

BREAKING: Court Allows Torture Suit Against Former Defense Sec't Rumsfeld

This is the 1st time in U.S. history that court allows torture suit against current or former Cabinet Secretary

CHICAGO – Federal Judge Wayne R. Andersen issued an historic ruling today allowing a suit charging former Defense Secretary with authorizing torture.

Rumsfeld asked the court to dismiss the case because he is a high-placed governmental official and argued that he was immune from suit even for allegations of torture. Mr. Rumsfeld also argued that due to his position, the Constitution permitted him to order interrogation techniques that are widely considered by human rights experts to be torture. The Court rejected both of Mr. Rumsfeld's arguments and held that high-placed placed cabinet officials can be held personally liable if they authorize the use of torture.

While many previous civil suit attempts to prosecute Bush-era cabinet officials for authorizing torture have failed, the suit brought by Chicago-based Loevy and Loevy Attorneys at Law, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel v. Donald Rumsfeld, United States of America and Unidentified Agents, will now proceed to discovery and a trial.

Donald Vance, a Navy veteran, accuses U.S. forces in Iraq of imprisoning him without charges for over three months in 2006, and torturing him during much of that time. Vance, a private security employee at the time of his arrest in Baghdad, named former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a defendant for his role in overseeing the military prison system in Iraq.

Rumsfeld allegedly issued orders allowing torture techniques which allowed Vance to be subjected to extreme sleep deprivation, interrogation for hours at a time, held in an extremely cold cell without adequate clothing or blankets, and periodically denied food and water for long periods of time. During virtually Vance's entire three month imprisonment at the notorious Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport, he was held in solitary confinement in a continuously lit, windowless cell.

"Plaintiffs…allege that in August 2003 Rumsfeld sent Major Geoffrey Miller to Iraq to review the United States prison system," read Andersen's decision. "Plaintiffs claim that Rumsfeld informed Major Miller that his mission was to 'gitmo-ize' Camp Cropper…. These allegations, if true, would substantiate plaintiffs' claim that Rumsfeld was aware of the direct impact that his newly approved treatment methods were having on detainees in Iraq…. Based on these allegations, we conclude that plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to survive Rumsfeld's motion to dismiss on account of a lack of personal involvement…. Accepting at this stage that these treatment methods were in fact used, we conclude that a court might plausibly determine that the conditions of confinement were torturous."

An employee of Shield Group Security (SGS) at the time of his arrest, Vance and a co-worker, Nathan Ertel, suspected their employer of paying of local sheiks for influence in obtaining government contracts and of other illegal dealings. To combat the suspected illegal activity, Vance and Ertel became unpaid informants to the FBI in Chicago and U.S. officials in Iraq. When SGS officials threatened Vance's and Ertel's lives, they arranged for U.S. military forces to rescue them. But after a few hours of interrogation and then rest at the U.S. embassy, the U.S. imprisoned Vance and Ertel, beginning their nightmarish imprisonment without habeus corpus.

Once they were in U.S. custody, low level bureaucrats invoked the unprecedented powers Rumsfeld had given them to imprison Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel as "persons of interest" to the United States. Three months of interrogation followed, in which Mr. Vance was physically abused and denied the right to counsel, the right of access to the courts, and any legitimate process to challenge his illegal detention.

5 March 2010

Radical musings on pissing, bussing, and downsizing the rich

Swerving through the internets, I've groked a recurring meme about dramatic government downsizing. Obsidian Wings informs us that Arizonan drivers will simply have to hold it now that the government is phasing out toilets. (You'd think that they'd at least spend a few dollars on planting large bushy trees next to the road each 10 miles.) Going Green Mama tells us that reductions in bussing and afterschool programs might force her to consider a private school as a cheaper alternative. If the population had any frikkin' sense, we'd all simply show up at the polls and vote for massive tax-hikes for the wealthy (or more accurately, a repeal of the massive tax reductions for the wealthy that have been enacted year after year for decades). We could then take our pisses in private while enjoying the great luxury of school bussing. Who knows? We might even occasionally see a few jet-setters stop by at our local gym before they fly off to bribe their Congressman.

3 March 2010

Baksheesh American style

Rewatching parts of Moore's Farenheit 9/11 last night, I was again struck by the immense webs of open corruption among U.S. politicians. The connections between Bush and the Bin Laden family and Saudis have been discussed in detail but they never fail to shock me. So I must confess that the recent scandal of politicians selling earmarks to campaign contributors has little shock value. After watching years of baksheesh porn American style, it's harder to get excited by the small crowd of old geezers walking naked across the Caribbean beach. That said, it seems to me that if we're going to have a system that is so openly corrupt, we might want to rationalize it a bit further and simply have our political representatives send out catalogs of proposed bills full of corporate tax-cuts and costly weapons programs with a price tag to the right of each earmark. I can't help but think that we end up forkin' over extra moolah by forcing these people to fly down to some island to negotiate some simple quid pro quo that could be taken care of at a small diner in DC.

12 February 2010

Friendly leopard seals and polar bears

I definitely don't understand the mind of wild animals. Why would a carnivore want to help a carnivore of another species who was feeding off the same prey?

And then there are polar bears who play with tethered dogs. (I've seen a number of similar videos of this so it must be fairly common!)